Twenty-nine-year-old fashion designer Alexandra Alvarez never planned to launch her own brand. After working in sales at Lanvin, she became interested in fashion and enrolled at Parsons. As a student, the Miami native focused on designing elaborate, fanciful skirts, paired with simple bodysuits. It was during the preparation for her senior fashion show that she discovered that “good bodysuits had gone extinct,” and therefore a hole in the market. In 2014, Alvarez launched her label Alix — and now, she’s expanding her collection to include swimwear. “Designing bodysuits naturally led me to swimsuits,” the designer, who counts Chrissy Teigen and Kendall Jenner amongst her high-profile fans, explains. “Buyers and close friends kept saying they’d love my bodysuits as swimsuits, so I decided to test it out and see where it would lead me.” Here, Alvarez explains the challenges of launching a new label in New York, the key swimwear trends of the season, and more.
What do you love about swimwear? Being from Miami, I spent every weekend growing up in a swimsuit — either at the beach or on the boat. This lifestyle was a huge asset to developing my swimsuits. So much of the swimsuits you wear depends on your mood and the occasion, so I wanted to create classic pieces that were functional and could be worn more than one way.
What was the experience of getting your business off the ground? When I was 25, I showed up at a factory I found on Google with one basic bodysuit design asking if they would help me find a patternmaker that understood swimsuits, or could help me out in any way. They asked me what company I was with, and I responded simply, “My name is Alix.”
Let’s just say I had no idea what I was getting myself into but one thing was for sure, I believed in making these bodysuits come to life. The struggle was real for about two years. I was living by myself in the city, working day and night. I tested out fabrication after fabrication and worked on only one single piece until I mastered the right quality and fit. I love what I do, but to make it in this industry you have to be prepared to sacrifice a lot.
When did you first feel like you had made it? It was definitely when Net-a-Porter placed a re-order their first season carrying ALIX. This blew my mind. I remember being so nervous about their order and praying my sell through would be decent. I hit 98% sell-through… I still don’t believe it some days!
Has there been a favorite moment since you launched? Having the CFDA select Alix to be a part of the Incubator 4.0 class. The opportunity to work with such successful and inspiring mentors from every facet of the fashion industry, as well as sharing the floor with designers whom I can relate to, is such a privilege.
What were the main pieces you began with? I started swimwear by taking one of my classic bodysuits and testing it out in various swim fabrications. This turned into the Delano One-piece. From there I cut the Delano One-Piece in half and started working on a staple top and bottom, which led me to create the Standard Bikini Top, and Normandy High Waist Bottom.
What styles are most popular with your customer? The Sagamore Top, and the Shelborne One-Piece have gotten a lot of love! I think women really relate to investment pieces, which I try to always think about. The Sagamore for example can be worn with the shoulder strap buttoned into the bandeau for an edgier look or without as a classic bandeau top… I think of it as trying to creatively give my customer as much as much possible from each style.
What swim trends are you seeing among women right now? One-pieces everywhere! All ages — it’s amazing.
Is there a certain beach that inspires you? Every summer when I was growing up, we would travel to different islands in the Bahamas, Harbor Island is my favorite. The water, the sand — everything there is paradise.
If one of your swimsuits could be packed by a style icon and taken anywhere, who would the icon be and where would she go? Miroslava Duma in a Shelborne one-piece in Cap-d-Antibes. #Goals
Talk to me about your plans for the future. What’s next? Now that we are a part of the CFDA Incubator, I really want to utilize the mentors and tools available to build out the business side of Alix to its full potential. I want to keep creating suits that people will love, and to make all girls Alix girls! We just debuted our Resort 2017 and Spring/Summer 2017 swim lines at Swim Week in Miami and I cannot wait to share the new styles and colors.
Alvarez and the other members of the CFDA Incubator 4.0 class share their travel secrets:
Secrets of the Jet Set: 10 Up-and-Coming American Designers Reveal Their Travel Tips
Aurora James produces all of the pieces for her footwear line Brother Vellies in Africa—so naturally, she’s on the road at least every other month for several weeks at a time to meet with artisans and get inspired. At this point, the designer has packing down to a science. “I usually pack thirty seconds before I’m out the door—as an accessory designer, I usually roll with like 7 pairs of shoes, but it’s part of the fun. And about 8 dresses. I never bring anything black with me,” she says. “Why would you travel and wear black? It’s like a waste of life. You have to bring color, you can wear black in New York.” Her key to traveling light? “I totally utilize the hotel’s cleaning services. It’s shocking to me how many people do not!”
Model-turned-fashion designer Thaddeus O’Neil is an avid surfer—and takes sunscreen really seriously. “It’s essential. Neutrogrena is one that I bring a lot. I use, like 60+ on my face, for sure. I also put zinc on my face, because when you’re out on the water the sun is so bright. I look almost tribal, covered in white.” Other travel essentials include a surfbord, lots of books (“I’m not really a kindle person.”), a journal, sandals, sunglasses, a hat, a watercolors set, and plenty of his own designs. “I wear my own brand 90% of the time,” he says. “Look at these pants! They’re made for travel.”
Korean-born, New York-based women’s wear designer Ji Oh lived in London for years—but her favorite place to shop is in Sweden. “Whenever I go to Paris for work, I go to Sweden for two or three nights to shop. I buy a lot of t-shirts. Like, a lot. They are really well made, the fabrics are amazing, and the cut is never off. In other countries, quality really varies depending on the price, but nothing is ever bad in Sweden.” She also likes to pick up little tchotchkes, such as keychains or bathing suits, when abroad. “They aren’t necessarily rare, but they are special to me!”
Molly Yestadt, the founder of luxury hat label Yestadt Millinery, always wears baseball hats and a scarf on a plane. “If I take a nap, I just pull the hat over my face and then you don’t get bothered!” she says. Yestadte also has advice for how to bring hats on a plane, without ruining them. “You can wear it, or put it in a tote under the seat in front of you or in an overhead compartment, or carry in a hatbox—which is fabulous! We also make packable pats, that can go in a suitcase with a t-shirt in the crown. It’s classic, but it’s stable and it works!”
Daniel Dugoff, the founder of New York-based men’s wear brand DDUGOFF, makes clothes for ”normal American guys who are interested in well-made products, but have a fairly casual lifestyle.” So it makes sense that his favorite mode is pretty low key. “I’m not really a yacht guy, I really like trains,” he says. “There’s something really nice about traveling from city center to city center, instead of taking a cab an hour outside of a city, waiting at an airport for two hours, and flying somewhere just to get back into a city.” Whether on a train or a plane, Dugoff likes to pack light. “I’m kind of an anxious traveler, so I try to bring as little as possible. I never check a bag unless I have to.” He had to make an exception for the trip to Mexico, though. “I wanted to bring a lot of sunscreen,” he laughed.
Jason and Julie Alkire, the design duo behind women’s wear label Haus Alkire, have been married for nearly twenty years—and in that time they’ve gotten their travel regimen down to a science. “We always take a carryon with some things in it on a plane. A fresh pair of clothes and the three things you each would need to get by for the full trip,” Jason says. “Just in case.” For Julie, that means a versatile Little Black Dress, of their own creation, a red MAC lipstick and “OG black chap stick, it’s like a lip primer,” and Bare Minerals foundation. “If your bag gets lost–you can throw on red lipstick look great.”
Women’s wear designer Charles Youssef worked for Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Gareth Pugh and Cerruti before launching his eponymous collection in New York, in 2014. While running his own business keeps him local most of the time, the young fashion designer is lusting for an inspiration trip to Tokyo or Kyoto, to see the beautiful buildings and architecture. When abroad, he relies on a simple uniform of a “black t-shirt, some black pleated trousers and glasses.” For warm weather, he swaps out the pants for pleated shorts and packs extra grooming products. “I bring a lot of moisturizer, from Shiseido Men’s, and also use Neutrogena moisturizer with sunscreen in it.”
Alexandra Alvarez, the 29-year-old designer of bodysuit brand ALIX, designs a body-conscious product—but loves traveling in oversized pieces that still look chic. “On planes, I always wear a t-shirt; culottes, because they are big and comfortable but still look decent; a sweater; and close-toed shoes. If not, I have socks in my bags so I can change on the flight.” Once she arrives at her destination—she lives in a linen button-down shirt, tied at the navel. “The best one I ever got was at Massimo Dutti, in the men’s section. It was this white linen shirt—the best ever. I wore it all summer long last season, until the drycleaner misplaced it.”
Michael Miller and Katie Deguzman, the duo behind sustainable jewelry brand K/LLER COLLECTION, met as students at Parsons—and see eye to eye on just about everything. When asked about the one item they would never wear on a plane, both shouted in unison, “Heels.” “I made that mistake once,” Katie said. “But then again, I’d never wear Uggs either.” “I always wear drop crotch jeans, an oversized shirt, a giant scarf, and some sort of cool slip on shoe,” Michael added. “And tons of jewelry,” Katie said. “I love how you can now go through the 3-d scanner with all your jewelry on, and I don’t have to take it off!”
Tim and Dan Joo, the brothers behind accessories brand Haerfest, are always thinking about travel with their designs. “Our backpacks are for someone who has a coffee in one hand an an iPhone in the other,” Tim says. But they certainly understand the need to unwind and disconnect. In order to handle the New York grind, the brothers always add a day or two to a business trip, Dan explains, “to visit any museum or restaurants we wanted to go to. It’s all about work life integration.”